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Showing posts from October, 2009

Silly over Salvia

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Sometimes I think Rich Dufresne invented Salvia. I know he invented Agastache for all intents and purposes (I wish he had a penny for every one sold). Over the years he's sent me cuttings and seed and pictures of hundreds of salvias, whetting my curiosity about this pantropical, pantemperate and just plain panegyrical group of plants. There is one species that Rich won't probably grow very well in North Carolina: Salvia caespitosa is the undisputed rock garden gem of this giant genus. Like so many other fabulous Turkish plants, it was introduced into general cultivation about the time the Flora of Turkey was being written, and probably traces to an Alpine Garden expedition, or perhaps even to Peter Davis, mastermind of that incredible book.
It has been subsequently recollected by several Czechs, although their plants are not as dense and adorable as the original introduction. Albeit they are darker blue. I remember Jim Archibald once showing a slide of a lemon yellow phase of …

Rising to the occasion!

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Agave neomexicana at DBGAgave utahensis v. kaibabensis at Sandy's
I grant you there are more and more agaves blooming every year in Denver. But there are certain things that call for a sort of drumroll in the garden, like when most any Amorphophallus is in blossom, or the fabulous giant Chihuahuan yuccas (which have become almost commonplace as well) and any agave blooming makes for a sort of one-plant-festival in the garden.
This year not one, not two, but three agaves bloomed at Denver Botanic Gardens (two in the Rock Alpine Garden). The one pictured above was actually in Dryland Mesa, along the northwest side: the first time this fabulous colony of rosettes had deigned to bloom. The righthand picture is historic: that's Sandy Snyder's Agave utahensis, a much rarer plant in Denver and the first time I recall this subspecies blooming here in Colorado.
The juxtaposition of these two pictures captures the tremendous contrast in this genus: and there are even greater variations…

Spirited Spears

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I think the first foxtail lily to "take off" at the Gardens was Eremurus himalaicus in the Rock Alpine Garden: a few plants were planted early in the 1980s, and the years their buds weren't frosted (the Lower Meadow where they grew is a frost pocket) they were spectacular. I inadvertently scattered seed (after cleaning seed) in the woodland area behind the Alpine House where it germinated and a few years later a much happier colony established itself from that chaff. Sandy Snyder was the one who really first mastered these fabulous horticultural explamation point plants: I recall visiting her once fifteen, maybe 20 years ago and being dazzled by the yellow foxtail lilies. "You must have hundreds" quipped I..."237" responded she. Very Snyderian that exchange...
Sometime in the last ten years the horticulturists at DBG began putting them everywhere: gigantic E. robustus and E. himalaicus both in the Perennial Border, the steppe in Plantasia filled with E…

I'm not ready for winter....

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I can look over my computer as I type this and a delightful dusting of snow (ridiculously like powdered sugar) has bent the branches of the Scots Pines in the distance and frosted the daphnes and cushions and mounds in my rock garden: a lovely picture really. One I shall certainly get used to in the coming months...winter has her monochromatic charms.
But give me summer! I remember in July being beastly hot and yearning for a bit of autumn coolth. Fiddlesticks: I want heat again! I want the sun to burn down and my hat to get sweaty. Most of all, I want all the flowers to bloom all over again. Above is the limestone cliff section of the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens where I spent so many enchanted years as Curator. Front and center is Allium caeruleum, not the measly plant of commerce, but a robust, giant form from Mary Ann Heacock (I vaguely remember she said she got it from a correspondent in Bulgaria, I believe). When it blooms, the high season of June is at the very p…

My National Grass: Little Bluestem

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I have not been very subtle about my annoyance with Karl. That's short for Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster': the accursed thing is everywhere. There are armies of Karl marching around practically every shopping center like storm troopers. He stands lonely sentinel in most every perennial border. He's usually planted in groups of three or four--stiff, upright, pointy tow headed jumbo matchsticks, turning straw yellow in midsummer (as if to remind you that summer is fleeting and life consists mostly of winter and death and destruction). I would not mind Karl if he would act like most kindly bores, and just hover a bit out of sight and let the belles rule the dance floor. The belle of grasses in this case is bluestem.
There could never be enough little bluestem: I wish I could wave a Harry Potter wand and turn all those blasted Karls into 'Blaze' or 'Blues' or just plain generic Schizachyrium scoparium. Throughout the summer they are reassuringly…

Bokhara Fritillary

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I doubt if it actually grows in the city of Bokhara. Maybe in the foothills nearby. For someone with a life long fascination with Central Asia, certain epithets reverberate and shimmer: kokandica, seravshcanica, bucharica, ferghanica, turkestanica and more all summon images of the heart of Asia. I have often imagined the glint on the golden domes of Samarkand, the shifting sands of the many deserts, the dull glow of a distant snowy peak on an overcast day. Central Asia is the American West on steroids (and the American West is big enough with five hundred mountain ranges). Our floras are twinned, the climate, ecology and landforms echo back and forth. But the depth and complexity of Asia, even just Central Asia, brings new nuance to Old World.
This past summer I spent three weeks in Central Asia: two weeks in Kazakhstan and a week in westernmost Mongolia: hard to believe I haven't blogged on this yet. It has taken months and months to sort through and organize my images and thoug…

The ones that get away....

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I should have known not to have hogged it. I got seed of it years ago (I think I got seed from Gert Boehme in the former East Germany). The plant is very local in Uzbekistan, and I don't know anyone else who grew it. I grew the seed at home, got several plants: these pictures show the plant when it was in its glory years, some time ago:
The name: Incarvillea semiretschenskia. The lesson: share. The Himalayas are full of wonderful incarvilleas--tiny herbaceous cousins to Catalpa. Most are herbaceous, stemless and lovely. But I've never seen one as graceful and lissome and just generally charming as this frilly queen of the steppes. And she's gone back to the wild steppes of Central Asia once more. I don't know why I didn't bother to share germ plasm. I did give some to the propagator at work and we had a few plants at the Gardens for a couple of years. But the parent plants, the original ones that taunt me now with their feathery leaves and irridescent pink bells--I en…